If there’s one thing that really gets my back up it’s women who don’t help other women. I’ve never understood it when you consider everything we have in common. It doesn’t help that we live in a world which has an unhealthy interest in pitting us against each other, celebrating the many ways in which we belittle, betray and judge each other. It’s not every woman’s experience however, and it’s certainly not how the majority of women want to be portrayed. It’s also one of the main reasons I chose to write women’s fiction. Let me explain…
One of the great things about writing fiction is that you have the chance to raise the issues you feel strongly about within a range of ‘what if’ contexts. It allows you to illustrate the best and the worst of human nature through characters which readers will either love or hate. As a writer of women’s fiction one of my aims is to raise some of the issues which women might find themselves facing on a day to day basis; the good, the bad and the ugly. In doing so, I hope to get readers talking about these issues, sharing their stories and experiences. How women relate to each other is an issue I look at repeatedly in my writing, because it’s one which is fundamental to how we live, love, survive and thrive as women. It’s also a theme with an endless number of nuances and variables which means I can explore it from many different angles.
If you’ve read ‘Dancing Through Fire’ you’ll know that the character of Sheila is not one you’d instantly warm to, mainly because she fails to protect and care for Ellie who is a naïve eighteen year old in need of help. Sheila’s actions, or lack of, are counter-intuitive to many women and therefore it’s hard to relate to her. It is of course a fairly extreme example of one woman not helping another but if you compare her actions to those of Maria who instantly takes Ellie under her wing, then you start to wonder what it is that drives us individually as women. Maria is one of those naturally nurturing, no-nonsense matriarchs you’d want by your side during any given drama whereas Sheila is prevented from stepping in by something inside her which over-rides any female instinct to protect or nurture. There’s a question to be asked about why she behaves the way she does and what holds her back. Is it jealousy, fear, insecurity… or is it something in her own history which you’re left to figure out by piecing together all that you know of her? Regardless, she fails another woman by observing her pain and choosing to walk away. She then goes on to make life difficult for Ellie by gossiping about her circumstances and in many ways this is worse than the walking away itself. In terms of how Sheila and Maria respond to a young woman in need, they are polar opposites. The point isn’t to suggest that all women should be naturally nurturing, the point is to explore how and why one woman might choose to walk away when others wouldn’t.
I’m lucky enough to know some amazing women with remarkable stories of their own; what they’ve endured in their lives, what they’ve overcome and what or who has inspired them to get where they are today. I’ve also come across complete strangers who have reached out and supported me, cheering me on at different times in my life. These are not the women you overhear in coffee shops bitching about their friends or those who trip each other up in the workplace to drive their own personal agendas. And they certainly aren’t the women who walk away when another is in need. These are women who are secure enough in themselves to reach out to, and support, other women and when they do, you never forget their kindness. They have lived enough to know just how much we share; the joys, the challenges, the transformations we go through at different moments in our lives which are unique to us as women. They recognise the importance of being there for each other, so we know our experience is seen and understood. They make us feel that no matter what life throws at us, we have an ally in the world. In short, they are the very best of them.
These are the women I want to reflect in my writing because their stories are the ones which deserve to be celebrated. Seeing reflections of them in a book is also likely to be the only way you’ll ever hear about them because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about women who genuinely support other women it’s this: they do it quietly, they do it selflessly and they do it with the purest of hearts.
Writers are always being asked about writer’s block and how to get rid of it. There are a couple of things I’d like to say about this.
The second point is particularly important because it helps with the first. Clearing your head and doing something, anything, other than writing is the best way I know to re-boot your mind when it’s stuck.
Take photography for example, a hobby which I got into a couple of years ago. When I’m out and about and looking for photo opportunities my mind is completely focused on what I am looking for in the world around me. Nothing beats getting outside and photographing birds, wildlife and nature – no matter where I go I am never disappointed by what I see. I have learned to look beyond the obvious and see things which I would never have noticed before I had a camera in my hand. In short, I’ve learned to pay attention.
And it’s not just spotting the photo opportunities which holds my attention, it’s the process of taking the photograph and capturing the moment. I need to concentrate on the set-up; where I want my equipment, what height I want the tripod, what angle to shoot from and so on. I need to think about the light I’ve got available and what that means for my shutter speeds, my aperture settings and my iso – the ‘exposure triangle’ which I’ve yet to master but which I always need to be thinking about because I’m shooting manual in RAW. Then I take as many shots as I can hoping I’ll get one perfect photograph (1 in 20 is a really good day for me) That perfect shot is all I think about in the moment.
One of the greatest joys of photography is that it takes me to places where I am surrounded by beauty and the natural world – it can fast become the focus of every day out and holiday. I’m able to see the seasons more vividly and witness the entire lifecycle of birds and wildlife from one year to the next. Without realising it, photography has become a form of mindfulness for me. Everything slows down as I become completely absorbed watching adult birds feed their young by the river or bees search for nectar in my garden. It’s the best relaxation I know.
Then when I come home there’s the excitement of loading up the photographs and the thrill of finding the one you hoped would turn out; the cormorant drying it’s wings in the sun, the owl tilting it’s head just so, the swan in flight…. moments which give me the best kind of diary I could ever hope for. Images trigger memories for me better than anything else and when I look at a picture of a robin in the snow that I took last year I suddenly remember where I was when I took it, what I was wearing, who I was with, what I was feeling and so on. That’s how ‘in the moment’ I am when I’m out with my camera. I think of nothing else but what I’m doing right there, right then.
And thinking of nothing else but the moment I’m in is the only way I have learned to get myself beyond a mental block of any kind, including the writing kind. Call it distraction, mindfulness, meditation or whatever you will – it works for me. Then, when I least expect it, the answers I’ve been looking for pop into my head out of the blue, usually when I’m in the shower, driving to work or on the brink of sleep. My mind needs space to work, and that’s why I have to clear it out every once in a while. That’s why I need a hobby like photography in my life.
I’d love to hear about your hobbies in the replies section below and it would be great to see any wildlife photographs you’ve taken if photography happens to be your hobby too. In the meantime, here’s a small collage of some of my favourite photography moments.
Self-publishing is a lot easier than you’d think and once you’ve done it, you’ll wonder why you ever hesitated. Believe me.
I sat with my completed manuscript for over six years, thinking that self-publishing was an insurmountable task. However, unless you can find an agent / publisher willing to take a chance on a complete unknown self-publishing really is your only option if you want your work to be read.
Last year, after years of procrastinating I finally got my act together. With the help of a creative son who took on the front cover and a partner who’s an IT specialist at my side, I finally took the leap into self-publishing and my book went ‘live’ on 1st January 2018.
Here’s what I learned:
It’s so much easier than you think it’s going to be.
You really don’t need an IT specialist at your side (much as it was nice to have him there 😊)
You get a huge sense of satisfaction in doing it all by yourself and keeping total control over your work. When you hit that ‘publish’ button, enjoy the moment and be proud.
If you’re thinking about doing it, here’s some beginner’s advice from another beginner:
Preparation is everything. There are certain key components you need to have ready so you’ve got everything at hand once you’re ready to self-publish. These include:
Front cover ( 2560 x1600 pixels is the recommended size) This is really important and it’s worth spending time on this. My front cover was created using Adobe Photoshop but I needed someone in the know to help me here. If you don’t have such a person at hand pay a professional. A lot depends on the look you want.
Title page: keep it simple, just your name and the name of the book.
Copyright page. This is what mine looks like – I looked at the wording other authors had used and felt this covered all bases.
Copyright © 2017 Catherine Alexandra
All rights reserved.
Front cover © 2017 Rory Lawson
The right of Catherine Alexandra to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by the author in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express permission of the publisher / author.
About the author. Write this in third person – it looks more professional. It doesn’t need to be long or humorous or wildly clever – at the end of the day readers just want to get a sense of your life and who you are. Keep it simple Be yourself.
Acknowledgements. You’ll feel a bit as though you’re writing an Oscars acceptance speech here but go with it. It’s really important to say thank you to the people who support and inspire you. Word of caution here though– think carefully about this. It’s very hard to please everyone but it’s very easy to displease someone…
Genre and tag words / phrases. Books don’t always fit neatly into the given genres but have in mind those as close to your book as possible and select as many as you can – it gives your book a greater chance of being found by readers searching by genre. With Kindle Direct Publishing you are allowed seven tag words / phrases. Think about what words a reader might use to search for a book of interest, for example ‘age-gap love story,’ ‘holiday romance,’ and so on.
Pricing. Know what you want to charge for your book – it’s a fine balancing act. You probably won’t want to give it away jus yet but you’re also an unknown and readers are taking a chance on you. Unless you’ve signed up to KDP Select (meaning you can only publish on Amazon) the minimum price you can set is £1.99
Once you have all of that ready and you’ve worked out all the details in your mind, you’re good to go.
Once you sign in to Kindle Direct Publishing (link below) you’ll find a lot of very good advice. You’ll need to create an account and then download Kindle Create which is the software package you need to use to format your book. All the help you need for this is under the ‘prepare your book’ help section. (Top tips: make sure your completed manuscript (source file) has paragraph and page breaks inserted before you convert it into a book through Kindle Create)
Once you’ve got your account, downloaded the Kindle Create programme and read the formatting advice you’re over 90% there. The software really does walk you through it step by step.
Note: if you want to sell your book in America you’ll have to complete a tax certificate – again, you’re walked through this.
If you have everything prepared, it should take you less than an hour to go through the process of converting your file to a book and going through the step by step programme on Kindle Direct Publishing. It really is that simple.
The tricky bit comes after you’ve hit the ‘publish’ button and you have to start thinking about how you’re going to market and promote your book now that it’s out there in the big wide world….
But that’s a blog post for another day 😊
As a writer, you like to think there are things about your book which will get people talking. When I wrote ‘Dancing Through Fire’ the one thing I really wanted people to talk about was the relationship between Ellie and Guy: was it appropriate / inappropriate, realistic / unrealistic, heart-warming / heart-stopping…….. For me, everything about the book centres on that one question. If you do discuss it at your book club, please let me know your thoughts! In the meantime though, here’s a list of additional book club questions to help get the book chat going.
1. How important is the setting in ‘Dancing Through Fire’?
2. Guilt is a theme which threads its way through the novel. Choose one of the characters and discuss the source and impact of their guilt.
3. The friendship between Ellie and Guy leads to unexpected feelings on both sides. Discuss the circumstances of the friendship and why you think it develops as it does.
4. Why do you think Sheila and Jack react the way they do when Ellie finds herself in trouble?
5. Consider what Guy does for Ellie. How appropriate are his actions?
6. In what way does Guy find redemption through his relationship with Ellie?
7. There are several characters to dislike in ‘Dancing Through Fire.’ Who gets under your skin the most and why?
8. ‘Dancing Through Fire’ is told from two points of view, Ellie’s and Guy’s. Did you find this an effective way to develop the story and the characters?
9. In part one you hear things from Ellie’s eighteen-year-old perspective. In part two you hear her thirty-year-old voice. As a reader, did this help you to engage with her as a character?
10. What do Maria and Sam bring to the story?
11. Discuss the reasons why Ellie’s Dad visits her in Mallorca while Guy was ill.
12. Consider the ending of ‘Dancing Through Fire’ – were there any questions raised or left unanswered for you as a reader?
I always look inside the first few pages of a book before I buy it; to see if I like the writing style and the writer’s ‘voice.’ I tend to know within a couple of pages if it’s a book for me or not.
With that in mind, I’m sharing the first three chapters of ‘Dancing Through Fire’ with you, in the hope that you take a look and decide it’s a book for you. I’m a little bit biased, but I think you’ll enjoy it 🙂
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
It’s taken a while to take my debut novel ‘Dancing Through Fire’ from that first idea to the moment of publication – 22 years in fact. It didn’t take that long to write, you understand, it was more that teaching, single-parenting and all of life’s other adventures took over for long stretches of time. And that’s ok – that’s just as it should have been. ‘Dancing Through Fire’ was always there in the background though, and every so often, during holiday times and quiet weekends, I would fire up the computer, re-read what I’d already written, edit it for the umpteenth time (there were sometimes years in between so my writing style was changing along with my ideas …) and add a brand new chapter. Then I would put it to the side, get on with life and wait for the next clear run at writing to come along. Occasionally I would optimistically, if a little naively, send off a couple of chapters and the proposed outline to various agents and publishing houses only to be met with the usual round of rejections.
Then, around 6 years ago, I put the whole ‘I have to get a publishing contract’ notion to one side and focused instead on writing for the sheer joy of it, which brought a whole new freedom and motivation to the process. I was so much more inspired. Within a year I had finished ‘Dancing Through Fire,’ and, I’ll admit, I shed a tear or two as I wrote the last chapter because after all these years I was going to miss the two main characters, Ellie and Guy.
Once it was finished however, the strangest thing happened. Despite the satisfaction and pride I felt in my achievement I had a crisis of confidence and instead of going full steam ahead to get it published, I did nothing. For 5 years (not the kind of advice I would give to other debut novelists) Thankfully I got my act together at the tail end of last year and with family and friends behind me, went all out to self-publish, putting my first novel out into the world on faith alone. It was the right time and I do believe things happen when they’re meant to happen for reasons we don’t always understand. It’s been both exhilarating and, quite honestly, a little terrifying – will readers fall in love with my characters when they read them the way I did when I wrote them? If even one person does, then that’s success in my books.
I’m on book 2 now which is set in Elie, on Scotland’s very beautiful East coast. I plan to publish this year (not another 22 years from now) and I plan to enjoy every moment of the writing process from finding the right words to describe the beautiful things in life to falling in love with a whole new set of characters.
For now though, a huge thank you for keeping me company on this most exciting of journeys.
It’s lovely to see you here in my on-line writing world where I hope to share my news, views and updates with you.
I’m very excited to be introducing my debut novel, ‘Dancing Through Fire,’ which was a long labour of love (you can read about this in my post called ‘My Writing Journey’).
Let me tell you a bit more about it…
Set on the sun-drenched shores of Mallorca, ‘Dancing Through Fire’ is a bittersweet tale of love and redemption in an unlikely friendship.
Guy Saunders is a loner living in a dusty old farmhouse on a hilltop in Mallorca, trying to escape his tragic past.
Ellie McAllister is a naive young girl from Scotland working in a local taverna for the summer.
Following a traumatic event one evening, Ellie stumbles into Guy’s world, throwing him head first into an unlikely friendship with a traumatised teenager. Determined to heal her before she heads home at the end of the summer, Guy risks losing his closely guarded life of solitude and anonymity as he faces old ghosts and gossiping locals to save the young woman who has reawakened him.
Twelve years later, Ellie finds herself returning to the dusty old farmhouse and the man she has loved since that summer. As Guy faces his own mortality, he and Ellie struggle to come to terms with their individual pasts, and their relationship, as they take each other on a journey of love, loss and hope.
Some comments from Amazon readers:
‘A magical debut novel featuring Ellie and her personal journey. If you are looking for a read which is unputdownable while immersing yourself in an emotional roller coaster this book is for you! I loved this book and couldn’t turn each page quickly enough. The descriptions of the Island and of the many characters who Ellie meets along the way are captivating. Enjoy!’
‘An outstanding book for a debut novel. Beautifully written with a deft touch, it was a real page turner that was hard to out down. A beautiful story showing life’s twist and turns told with warmth and poignancy, created around believeable, relateable and likeable characters. When’s the next book?’
‘A light hand, poetic skill and huge empathy for characters. A truly skilled first novel.’